Monday, 28 November 2011

Hamid Karzai & Tarin Kowt.....

Over the past two months of my time here, I have been trying to grasp a greater sense of Afghanistan and its turbulent past, I was also particularly interested in the town of Tarin Kowt, which is just adjacent to the Base here, I have discovered that it played a very important role during the War on Terror in 2001.

Afghanistan is a country of tribes, from the Tajiks and Uzbeks to the north, the Hazzara and down here in the South, the Pashtuns, who are the key tribe that have made up the Taliban, who themselves of course are not Afghan at all !. There are three key Provinces in the South that are predominantly Pashtun, Kandahar, Helmand and also here in Uruzgan.

The Leader of the Taliban, Mullah Omar was born in the village of De Rawood, which is in the mountains west of the town of Tarin Kowt which itself is the Capital or Provincial Town of Uruzgan. The town has about ten thousand inhabitants and the rest of the province is made up of smaller villages scattered throughout the Province and very tribal in nature.

Soon after 9/11 after the US declared its war on terror, it was making progress in the north of the country as it allied with the Northern Alliance and the Taliban were being routed right across the north, however they were very aware of the dangers of allowing the Nothern Alliance to advance into the Southern Pashtun Provinces, as it would likely lead to a civil war along tribal divides and would allienate the Pashtuns.

I have just completed a great book called "The Only Thing Worth Dying For" written by Eric Blehm, which tells the story of how a group of 11 "Green Berets" or Special Forces were dropped into a village just west of here along with Hamid Karzai, who is now the President of Afghanistan. The Mission was to raise an insurgency against the Taliban amoung the Pashtun Tribes of Uruzgan, and Karzai who is a Pashtun was seen a natural focal point and rallying figure to persude the local tribes. The plan was for the Special Forces Unit to train the local fighters and organise them (something a little alien to the locals in my experience), on their second day in Uruzgan, they got notice from the town of Tarin Kowt that the locals has staged an uprising and overthrown the Taliban Governor.

The Story then goes on to explain how the 11 Special Forces Troops defended the town against a Taliban attack from Kandahar to the south and how this victory became the key success that allowed Karzai to rally the local tribes and allow them to push South and within weeks result in the surrender of Kandahar.

A lot of this success was based on the terrain in this part of the world and the lack of roads and supply routes (there is just a single road connecting Tarin Kowt to Kandahar) and also Karzai's ability to rally his Pashtun Tribal Elders against the Taliban. I would highly recommend reading the book as I have just given a brief summary here, it goes in to lot sof detail on how these forces are trained in Unconventional Warfare (UW), which resulted in the success they had in Uruzgan, there were of course casualties as there always is in war.

From this success in 2001, the airfield here at Tarin Kowt was secured and the Military Base built around it which is where I am working at the moment, it was first built by the Dutch, thus named Camp Holland and was then handed over to the Australians who remain here. They have many differnent missions here in Uruzgan, other security and counterinsurgency, one of them being reconstruction, both reconstruction in the physical sense of schools and medical centres destroyed during the war but also training for the locals such as trades etc. to allow local men to provide for their families, they also facilitate "Shura's" which are meetings of local Elders to agree on the best way to work togeteher and to prevent local disagreements which has been the centuries old way of existence in this country.

It is almost exactly 10 years since the battle of Tarin Kowt, and in ways, so much remains the same, the Taliban still exists, conflict still remains, and some 120,000 NATO soldiers are based throughout this country, committments have been given by most of these countries to start withdrawing these troops from next year, I can only hope that this country can provide security to its people or this cycle will never end.....

the photo's above are from the book and

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

An Important Visitor....

On November 6th last, the Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard paid a visit to MNB-Tarin Kowt, this following a tough few weeks for the Australian Army here following the loss of 3 of their Soldiers here and 7 other casualties. This was part of a visit to Aafghanistan that also involved a visit to Kaul to meet President Karzai.

As this is a warzone, such visits are done in such a way that there is no reporting of the event until afterwards so it was interesting to see that nothing appeared in media for a few days after the visit.

We went along to the Bar-B-Q hosting the Prime Minister, and it felt very odd to be in the presence of a head of state in such an informal setting but also a very secure setting-

She mingled with the soldiers and talked to them about their work here, and also re-iterated Australia's commitment to the mission here until at least 2014, it is now becoming clear however that they will be reducing their contingent here by some two thirds by the middle of 2012.

This of course will have an effect on our work here for the next number of months as much of our work here is in support of the Australian Military so I expect that we will also be scaling down coming into the second quarter of 2012, so there looks like my time here in Tarin Kowt at least if not Afghanistan is limited...

I have inserted a few images here....

Thursday, 3 November 2011

A Sad Day at Tarin Kowt........

Last Saturday afternoon, during the regular site visits, inspections and meetings around Camp Holland, there was a strange feeling about, I had heard a lot of Helicopter activity overnight and could see that there were a lot of tired and weary soliders around the base.

A colleague of mine I met for lunch informed me that he had heard that there was a lot of action last night and that there were casualties in the Base Hospital, later on that evening, we heard the very sad news that three Australian Soldiers had lost their lives in an incident out on a Patrol Base from here, you could see the distress on the faces of every Australian I met that evening.

At a regular meeting that I have with our own clients, who are Officers in the Australian Army, I conveyed the sympathies of our contingent here in Tarin Kowt and they went on to express how shocked they were at the events and how the news was being taken back at home....

It transpired that the three Soldiers were training the Afghan Army, as a major part of ISAF's objectives here is to develop and train an Afghan Army and Police Force that can establish and maintain order in this "wild west" nation. On a routine morning Parade Drill, an ANA soldier had pulled an automatic weapon and fatally injured three Australian soldiers, an Interpreter and up to seven other soldiers.

On Monday last, I was invited to attend the Repatriation Ceremony for the three fallen soldiers at the Gym here and later on the airstrip as the soldiers were farewelled by their colleagues here at Tarin Kowt.

In a very touching and emotional few hours, what seemed to be the entire population of the base , both Military and Civilian lined the roads leading from the Gym to the waiting C-130 Hercules Aircraft in complete silence while a lone piper lead the three armoured vehicles carrying the coffins of each fallen soldier, flanked by a guard of honour from their closest comrades.

For me this again demonstrates, firstly, how these brave men and women come from thousands of miles away to this country and work so hard to do their duty, trying to stabilise and establish a nation here that has been so ravaged by decades of war, and secondly how futile it must feel to those same soldiers, their politicians and their families back home that they should die in such a way, where they have been giving of their time and expertise to help and are attacked for it....thus seems to be the way in this country. Where are we now, 10 years into a conflict that just does not seem to be any closer to a conclusion ?....

It was a sombre day on Tuesday last all around the Base here, I again send my deepest sysmpathies to the families of all those who have lost lives in this country and can only hope that someday this beautiful, conflicted, harsh, severe and sad country can find a way to be peaceful and prosper again....